Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: Roger Hanshaw serving in citizen legislature for all citizens

By Philip Reale

I have read with interest the front page article in the Dec. 6, 2018, edition of The Charleston Gazette-Mail titled “Speaker’s gas ties put ethics in focus”.  I have been involved directly and indirectly with the West Virginia Legislature since my days as a college student some 48 years ago, and while I have been privileged to interact with any number of honorable and ethical people in government during those nearly five decades, no person is more honorable, respectful, truthful, trustworthy and ethical than our current Speaker of the House, Roger Hanshaw.

Phil Reale

The line of reasoning set forth in the article that because Hanshaw, as a lawyer, has clients with business interests found in the natural gas industry somehow causes his position on legislation related to natural gas to somehow be tainted and unethical simply has no merit in fact or law.  Ours is a citizens’ legislature in which virtually any citizen of our state may become a legislator.  Legislative power under our state constitution and cases decided thereunder “is an attribute of sovereignty, and the exercise of that attribute is vested by the people of the state in the Senate and House of Delegates.”  

Consequently, we have teachers and public school administrators seated in our legislature who vote for legislation providing themselves with a pay raise or impacting their retirement system or adjusting their health insurance coverage.  Those public educators have a lot to do with the advancement of legislation involving education policies, but they also bring a perspective on all legislation derived from their dealings with students and parents throughout the state.  

We have engineers who are legislators.  They, as a member of a class, must vote on matters overseeing their profession but they also bring perspective on matters involving design and engineering of infrastructure projects.  Think of healthcare issues and the number of physicians and nurses who are members of the legislature and who must vote on matters that may directly affect their practice regimens.  Their perspective is very important on matters of public health.  There are countless other examples of citizen legislators who, by the very nature of the construct of a citizen legislature, vote on legislation of which they have an interest as part of a community of people with a similar interest.  It is a legislature not just of a relative few lawyers, but equal parts public educators, doctors, nurses, engineers, business owners, bankers, real estate brokers and agents, entrepreneurs, farmers, airline pilots, college students, accountants and many more.  Each bring a perspective that is reflective of personal experience and constituent desires.

Each legislator is loaded with talents, weaknesses, interests, areas of expertise and subjects about which they know much as well as next to nothing. They are a mirror image of the diverse population of our state – just as intended as formative of a citizen legislature.  Our constitution does not provide that there must be a majority of members elected from the environmental community nor from the natural gas industry, coal industry, manufacturing industry, from public education employees, lawyers nor any other subset of the state’s population.

The Dec. 6 article would imply that the evolution of policies impacting the natural gas industry is the most major of issues with which our legislature must deal.  Not true.  Annually, one can bet that the biggest issue to contend with is that of fiscal responsibility and arriving at a balanced budget for the state.

Still, what our state does in the subject area of reasoned oversight of the natural gas industry is important.  It is important for West Virginians of all walks of life, for it is that industry that represents the current and most immediate hope for job creation, diversification of our state’s economy and growth of the state’s tax base.  It needs responsible and reasonable oversight as does any industry, but it does not need unnecessary and excessive regulation designed to prevent it from reaching the potential good it can bring West Virginia, while Ohio and Pennsylvania take advantage of essentially the same opportunity to grow their economy and generate revenues for their state which pay for vital and beneficial services for their citizens.

I conclude by leaving readers with the thought that Roger Hanshaw is highly respected by members of the legislature from both political parties, that he cares little about party affiliation in contrast to finding solutions to our state’s problems, that he is educated in both science and the law, that his decisions are based on careful considerations of facts not hyperbole, that he treats everyone with equal importance and respect, that his work ethic is second to no other and his intellectual capacity to deal with and proffer solutions to issues which come before the legislature is nothing short of remarkable.  All of West Virginia, regardless of party affiliation, should be confident that he has no ethical shortcoming and to insinuate otherwise is intellectually dishonest to the newspaper’s readers.

Philip Reale is an attorney and government affairs consultant

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